Sunday, November 14, 2010

Harvest Pumpkin Stew

When vegans celebrate holidays, the table is often crowded with Tofurkeys and Field Roasts and other things that try very hard to sound like meat. But if your guests are omnivores, or you'd simply prefer to feature seasonal, richly-flavored vegetables, this is just the thing to serve. It's perfect for even the most formal Autumn gatherings. And who doesn't like sitting down to their own miniature pumpkin, filled to the brim with hearty stew and topped with biscuit dough?

These buttermilk biscuits are also indispensable for dunking into gravy or spreading with strawberry jam, but if you don't want to fuss with them, store-bought puff pastry of pie crust is also suitable here; just drape it over the top of each pumpkin. For a giant pumpkin worthy of a holiday celebration (particularly if you don’t know how many guests to expect), substitute one large pumpkin for the miniature versions. Prepare the large pumpkin as you would the small ones. Ladle in the finished stew, cover the top with biscuit dough, and bake as directed.

Harvest Pumpkin Stew
6 stew-filled pumpkins
The recipe sounds fairly involved, but all of the elements can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, and refrigerated until ready to assemble. It’s also got loads of ingredients, so if you don’t have peas or hate oregano, it’ll be fine without.

For the stew:
1 pound yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 pound autumn squash (pumpkin, butternut, or delicata are good) peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 ½ pounds red or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 ribs celery, leaves included, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, diced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup flour
5 cups salt-free vegetable stock or water
1 can (15 ounces) Canneloni or great Northern beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 ½ cups cooked
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
fresh corn cut from 2 cobs, or 1 ½ cups frozen corn
½ teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh
½ teaspoon dried sage, or 1 teaspoon fresh
½ teaspoon oregano, or 1 teaspoon fresh
½ teaspoon rosemary, or 1 teaspoon fresh
¼ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

For the pumpkins:
6 small pumpkins (about 2 pounds each; pie pumpkins are ideal)
about 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

One recipe Buttermilk Biscuits (below)

Make the stew: Directly on a baking sheet or roasting pan, toss together the sweet and red potatoes, squash, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and ½ teaspoon each sea salt and pepper. Roast at 350F until tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Set aside. (If your oven is large enough or you’re halving the recipe, the pumpkins can be baked alongside.)

In a large stockpot over medium heat, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, garlic, celery, carrots, onion, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are tender and the onions go translucent, 6-8 minutes. Add the flour, and stir for 2 minutes; the vegetables should be well-coated and will appear mushy.

Pour in one cup of the stock or water, and mix thoroughly, dislodging any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add remaining stock, beans, peas, corn, thyme, sage, oregano, and rosemary, and cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The stew should be bubbling away and slightly thickened. Season with additional salt (another teaspoon or so--you might want even more than this) and pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Prepare the pumpkins: Heat oven to 350°F. Generously oil a large baking sheet (or 2), and set aside.

Using the tip of a good serrated knife, draw a circle around the top of a pumpkin as a guide. Cut out a 6” diameter hole in the tops of the pumpkins. Scoop out the seeds, and thoroughly scrape out the stringy pulp with a largish spoon, careful not to pierce through the skin. Repeat with remaining pumpkins. Rub the insides of the pumpkins with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. If you like, toss the seeds with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt, and roast.

Bake pumpkins, with tops alongside, on prepared baking sheet, 20 minutes. Transfer the tops to a wire rack, flip the pumpkins, and bake upside-down for another 20 minutes. The pumpkins should be fairly soft, but not collapsing. Set aside until ready to assemble.

To assemble: Heat oven to 425°F. If the parts were made ahead and refrigerated, bring everything to room temperature. Place pumpkins on a large baking sheet, reserving tops for garnish.

Return the stockpot of stew to low heat, and bring to a simmer. Evenly ladle the stew into each pumpkin.

Divide biscuit dough into six equal pieces. Roll each into a ball, and pat into a 3/4" thick round. Place a round over each serving of stew.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits have puffed and turned golden. The tops should be crisp, while the biscuit underneath has a sort of dumpling quality. Carefully remove to shallow plates. Lean a lid against each pumpkin, and serve immediately.

Buttermilk Biscuits
The key to light, fluffy biscuits and scones is to work the dough as little as you can manage, preventing the development of gluten. The more the dough is handled, the tougher it will become, so use a light hand. It’s also important to keep the ingredients as cold as possible, which I do using the freezer method below.

¾ cup non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons very cold vegan margarine, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons cold non-hydrogenated shortening, cut into small pieces

Heat oven to 450°F. Have a large, ungreased baking sheet ready.

Combine non-dairy milk and vinegar, and set aside while you get on with the dough.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Place in the freezer while you measure the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the margarine and shortening until it the texture resembles something between peas and bread crumbs. Return to the freezer for several minutes, or up to 30.

Pour the liquid in, and—using a light hand—briefly agitate the mixture until everything is almost moistened. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula, folding it together until nearly all loose flour is part of the dough. If making the dough in advance, form into ½” high disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Best of Autumn

If you're sulking in pre-winter doldrums, perhaps some culinary inspiration will wake up your love of autumn. Here's what I've been thinking of lately.

Because it bears repeating, Pumpkin Scones. Have I mentioned how delicious they are made with coconut oil, rolled into doughnut hole-sized balls, and dunked in glaze? Oh, they are. Delicious. We had them Halloween night, and it made me lament the razor-blades-in-apples scare of the 1980's that still prevents people from handing out homemade treats. Because really, the neighborhood kids would go wild over these.

For more sweet things, Sweet Potato Maple Scones, and super easy Harvest Apple Punch.

If you want raw, try a Pumpkin Cheesecake, Raw Apple Tart, or Almond Shortbread (add a few dashes of cinnamon and ginger for warmth).

And for comforting savory dishes, put together a Pecan Sage Loaf (also raw), Greens au Gratin, Sweet Potato Curry, or the recently posted Sage Ricotta Gnocchi. Also look out for the Harvest Pumpkin Stew I'll be posting this week, the perfect alternative to faux meat holiday dishes.

What have you been enjoying this season? And what's on your to-make list?